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Architectural duds: Steve Lackmeyer takes on worst of city's architecture

by Steve Lackmeyer Published: June 22, 2013
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On Friday, I provided a glimpse of my experience covering architecture and development downtown, and then suggested a listing of best examples of new architecture added to the central city during the post-MAPS era.

If there is a list of “best” architecture built in the past 20 years, then a “worst” list is probably worth considering as well. Dwelling on the negative just to be negative doesn't accomplish much in life. But with each of the following examples, I think a lesson can be learned and applied to ongoing development of downtown Oklahoma City.

1. Federal Building

Address: NW 6, NW 8, Hudson and Harvey Avenues

Designer: Ross Barney + Jankowski, Chicago

One must remember the context of the time when designs were first unveiled in 1999. The building was set to replace the bomb-destroyed Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, and civic leaders had scrambled to prevent the loss of the various federal agencies to the suburbs. Was this the design that civic leaders of the time wanted? Heck no. Did they have a design ordinance to insist on changes? Nope. No one said, “take this or else.” But the message was there. The design was promoted as “an inviting yet secure” complex. It certainly is seen as secure. It was noted at the time this design was released that the U-shape of the building was eerily reminiscent of the blast damage to the Murrah building. Local architects recoiled in horror, but no protest ensued. Oklahoma City was feeling vulnerable. Downtown needed the workforce to help rebuild what had been lost. The building is as secure as a U.S. prison or army bunker in heart of Baghdad. I don't know of anyone who likes the design, and the park is seen as less than inviting.

2. Legacy at Arts Quarter

Address: 301 N Walker

Designed by: ADG Inc., Oklahoma City

Let's be fair on this one; the complex we see today has very little in common with the original designs submitted by ADG Inc. But due to a lot of value engineering over a series of construction delays by developer Mike Henderson, Legacy at Arts Quarter is now seen as “how not to” design a major downtown apartment complex. The facade is heavy on white stucco, and it's staining from the city's red dirt and wind. And the admission this design was a disappointment was made by none other than Henderson himself as his one-time protege, Gary Brooks, successfully bid to develop the old Mercy Hospital site in MidTown. Sure enough, Brooks' Edge looks nothing like Legacy. On the upside, Legacy introduced a whole new level of residential density to downtown and strove to include retail on the ground floor (which has been a partial but not complete success).

3. Residence Inn

Address: 400 E Reno

Designed by: Lohmeyer-Russell, Springfield, Mo.

This project was partly what inspired me to seek a transfer from the newspaper's city desk, where I had been working on investigative stories, to creating an entirely new downtown development, public/private development beat on the business desk. I saw Lower Bricktown being developed in a manner that was upsetting readers who were disappointed in what they were seeing rising out of the ground. They contacted me wondering why they weren't being told enough in advance about what was set to be built. By the time these plans emerged in 2005, just before I changed beats, the nearby Harkins Theater, and smaller restaurant buildings were already built.

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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